Vertical Limit

Directed by Martin Campbell
Starring: Chris O'Donnell, Robin Tunney, Scott Glenn, Bill Paxton, Izabella Scorupco, Nicholas Lea.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense life/death situations and brief strong language.

Review by Matt Heffernan <>
December 12, 2000

As far as I can tell, there is only one reason to see Vertical Limit: to discover the context in which Chris O'Donnell has to jump across a big chasm, as shown in the trailer. The clip used in the trailer shows him making it, so you know he doesn't fall to his death right then and there. Other clips are shown in the various theatrical and television ads, but none are nearly as compelling. It's reminiscent of the ads for the original Mission: Impossible film that showed Tom Cruise jumping from an exploding helicopter onto a speeding train. Why on earth would anybody have to do such a dangerous thing? Believe it or not, this stunt works into a plot, if you could call it that.

O'Donnell plays Peter Garrett, who in the beginning of the film is rock climbing with his father (Stuart Wilson), his sister, Annie (Robin Tunney), and two anonymous guys. A couple of the cams fall out of the rock, and the two anonymous guys bite the dust immediately (it's a theme that gets repeated throughout the film: the less important you are, the sooner you will die). This leaves Annie, Peter, and their father hanging on a single line with a single cam loosening from the rock. Dear old Dad convinces Peter to cut the line to save his sister and himself. Cut to Dad's lifeless body hitting the ground (really).

Now we cut to Peter after some time has passed, photographing some leopards in Pakistan for National Geographic. He's given up climbing since the traumatic experience, but Annie's gone on to great fame as the best female climber in the world. She's not too far away, arriving at the base camp of K2, ready to accompany millionaire Elliot Vaughn (Bill Paxton) to the top for a publicity stunt. Ignoring the dangerous weather, they recklessly continue their mission, and end up getting trapped in a crevasse. Guess who has to go back to climbing to save them.

Within Vertical Limit, I saw the potential for a great man-against-the-mountain story. Martin Campbell is a perfectly fit director, having made rousing adventures like GoldenEye and The Mask of Zorro. However, somehow he felt compelled to give into every cliché imaginable. He can thank the screenplay by Robert King (Cutthroat Island) and Terry Hayes (Payback) for that. It's not easy to enjoy mindless entertainment when it's more mindless than entertaining.

Watching this film is like being a ball in a ping pong game. You are constantly knocked back and forth, from one crisis to another. It's all beautifully shot, and it is interesting in bits, but overall the film is overwhelming. Caring about the characters is impossible when the film is too busy with explosions and avalanches.

But, as I said earlier, it all falls into a nicely predictable pattern. If Vertical Limit were an episode of "Star Trek", half of the cast would be wearing red shirts. If a character that is not really introduced goes up a mountain, he dies almost instantly. Characters played by lesser-known actors go next. Then, the less attractive character actors go, leaving only the beautiful leads to survive. Lest you think that this film may surprise you in any way; do not bother seeing it.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Vertical Limit (2000)

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Vertical Limit (2000) -- VHS
Vertical Limit (2000) -- DVD
Vertical Limit, a screenplay novelization by Mel Odom -- Paperback
Vertical Limit: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc Home
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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan